This is a tough blog post to write as I have debated the content and the tone of it for a week. I still have another week here…so I may change my tune…but here goes…
Dear Buenos Aires (hereafter, “BA”),
I really wanted to love you; the fantasy that I have built up in my head was so great that I may have over-estimated your desire to commit to me. In my ideal fantasy world, we loved each other so much that I would have considered moving here for you…
Alas, if you were my boyfriend, I would call our relationship unstable and abusive and I would have dumped you a long time ago. I wanted to tango in the streets, eat delicious grass fed steak and enjoy the beautiful culture. Only some of this came true..
Kieran and I arrived to BA on December 19th, 2014. The day before arriving, we learned of this thing called the “blue market” which started off my affair with BA on the wrong foot. Let me try to quickly explain.
The current financial/political situation in BA is so unstable that the locals are fearing that the economy (already in the toilet) may be worse off than the financial crises in Argentina of 2001. The Argentinian peso is so worthless that no one wants it (literally, you are told to spend the last of your pesos in Argentina as no one will exchange it back to your original currency at the airport when you get back home).
The best way to travel to Argentina is to bring a LOT of dollars with you and then go to the local “cambio” (change) shop and exchange your money on the “down low”. Disclaimer: I am not suggesting that this is something I personally have done, I am just saying that this is what I have heard and seen :).
In Argentina, there is an “official government set rate” of approximately 8.5 pesos to $1 USD. However, if you go to an exchange shop, you will get at least 40-50% more (13 pesos to $1USD). No brainer there!
The issue: Kieran and I have been traveling for a few weeks by the time we got to BA and brought at most $400 USD as “just in case” money in $20 bills. Once in BA, a local (I won’t name names) took us to a “cambio” shop. You walk into a place that looks totally legit which exchanges dollars for an “official rate” and then you are taken to the “back room”. There, we learned that if you have $20 bills, you will get a lower rate of 12 pesos to $1 but if you have $100 bills, you will get a rate of 13 pesos to $1 (one of the reasons they prefer $100 bills is to save space at the cambio shops).
Already feeling ripped off by this new boyfriend of mine (BA, not Kieran), I start to get a tad annoyed, especially knowing that we have no more dollars and there isn’t one place in Argentina where you can take out dollars at this point (the only way to get dollars is to go to Uruguay or Chile).
You are probably thinking, Alina, stop being a cheap Jew (I can call myself that, you can’t), it’s just a few pesos, what’s the big deal? Let me reason with you – you go to a Starbucks to buy an iced tea for 35 pesos. If you are paying at an official rate, you are buying an iced tea for more than $4.00; if you are paying at a “blue rate”, you are paying about $2.50. That is a HUGE difference, especially when you start looking at things like hotel costs and nice steak dinners for weeks to come. Kieran and I have never made $400 last as long as we did in this case (weeks)! Then, we ran off to Chile to get more $$$ (but that is for another post).
In the past week, the older gentleman and I at the cambio shop have become close friends where I know that when he makes no eye contact with me that means “do NOT go in the back, there is a police officer here” to “welcome, please come in and hope that we do not give you fake pesos”.
Tip: If you do go to “cambio” to exchange money, please please please do so through a local who takes you there for the first time and introduces you to people so you are not in fact given fake pesos.
Another thing that erked me about my new boyfriend (BA, not Kieran) is that the streets are covered in crap! Literally! People here LOVE dogs (which I appreciate), but they also have decided that poop should be smeared all over the streets in 90 degree weather – would it kill you to pick it up? Some of you may say, Alina, get that stick out of your butt, you should have been more drunk … and I will not disagree.
The streets of BA smell sooooo badly in the heat and you can’t go one foot without possibly stepping into a pile of crap. Which leads me into the next issue – the size of cockroaches that visit the above mentioned poop piles. OMG – they are the size of my foot (size 8, if anyone wants to buy me cute shoes). No, really, I may as well put a leash on one and call it Fifi, my pet! I would post a picture, but most of them ended up dead on my watch. Did I mention that the crap and the cockroaches are all around nice restaurants in Palermo? Wouldn’t you love to sit at a lovely outdoor restaurant, with your glass of red and a steak with pet Fifi, the cockroach on your leg and a dog having a nice bowl movement next to your face? NO? Me neither!
Rant is over…
We arrived to my new found family home in Recoleta on December 19th. Recoleta is a gorgeous little “old money” neighborhood (cute little grandmas wearing their Fendi and Louis Vouittan clothes that they have owned since the 60’s) with the famous Recoleta cemetery (where Evita was buried) just down the street and 3 ice cream shops within the same block (my heaven) along with a Park Hyatt and a Four Seasons down the street (my other heavens).
We were in BA through Christmas and now I am back here by myself for 11 days staying in a rented Airbnb apartment in Palermo Hollywood. If you are in your 20s, 30s, 40s or 50s, I would highly recommend staying in Palermo (SoHo or Hollywood) rather than Recoleta as you have tons of restaurants/bars/clubs just steps away from you (but it can be a tad noisy). Here are some of my recommendations/feedback on various places that we experienced in December and that I am experiencing now by myself in January:
- Freddo: an awesome ice cream chain in Argentina. Try all of their Dulce De Leche flavors – yummy!
- Arkakao: holy mother! the BEST ice cream shop in Recoleta (God bless Italians for this one).
- La Cabrera: yummy steak house. I came here with Kieran and by myself. The steak and desserts are heavenly. My only issue with this place is the service. When I came here for the 3rd time by myself at 1am just for dessert, they told me that I “wasn’t allowed to just eat dessert” and asked me to leave or order steak. You can imagine the look I gave them when I left. The trip advisor review is yet to be written and it likely won’t be very nice.
- Don Julio: another awesome steak house. The service is far better than La Cabrera’s, so I suggest going here.
- El Cuartito: a thick crust pizza restaurant filled with locals. It is “ok”. At the end, you feel like you ate a lot of cheese with bread and no pizza.
- Boulangerie Cocu: this probably has become my “go to” spot in Pallermo Soho. I love this place for breakfast and for lunch. Great food, wonderful fresh bread and awesome wifi! Customer service is great here!
- Palacio Duhao: Our super thoughtful friends (Jeff and Cat) bought us a great gift to have a nice outing for some “English Tea” at the Park Hyatt. Being that it was down the street from us and we had no Christmas plans, we booked ourselves for an early Christmas dinner and had a lovely time sitting outdoors and enjoying a glass of bubbly! Side note: to anyone who loves Christmas, this may not be the best time to come to Argentina for you. I found that the streets were not decorated and you can’t feel the ambiance of the holidays. Although, at midnight on Christmas eve, there is a count down and fireworks as if it was NYE.
- Oui Oui: another one of my “go to spots” for tostado con jamon y queso (toast with ham and cheese – the staple snack here) and for their lovely granola and yogurt breakfast.
- Le Pain Quotidien: a chain breakfast/lunch spot in BA with common dining tables. A fun space with nice folks to meet!
- Free walking tours: there are many in BA to choose from. Kieran and I did this one ( at two different times) and neither one of us was super impressed by the information or the architecture of BA (it is very frumpy and grey in my humble opinion). Some people say the bike tours are better, but if anyone has ever seen me on a bicycle… is anyone else getting the theme from my posts how awesome of an athlete I am?
- The Pink House: this is basically the “White House” where the president used to reside. Now, it is a free museum. It is located across from Plaza De Mayo – an impressive plaza with a nice park. It is also where Evita (aka Madonna) made her well known appearance to address the city from the balcony.
- San Telmo Market: I think this is where the entire city migrates to on Sunday for some antique/leather shopping, live music and food. The market goes on for probably 20 blocks. It is HUGE!
- Recoleta Cemetery: an interesting spot to spend an hour or two walking around. It’s the cemetery to the rich and some famous and all are “buried” above ground in gorgeous caskets and almost home like structures. It is an interesting concept which makes one ask why do some get “buried” in such extravagance?
- Hippodrome Palermo: this is where the polo matches are held. Unfortunately, we came during the off season. However, you can still walk around for free and check out the grounds; there is also a huge casino there.
- La Viruta Tango: love this spot for some authentic tango/salsa dancing and lessons. While here alone, I have now gone 4 times and loving it! Dancing is a sport that I am actually good at, so I was able to teach locals a thing or two about Salsa and show grandpa’s how to tango. As there are far more women than men in class and we have to switch partners every 3 minutes, as the tallest woman in the group, I usually have to play the role of a guy and lead the other ladies; so, when I come home, please don’t ask me to show you tango moves.
- Thelonious Jazz Bar: cool spot if you are into jazz, but make reservations!
- Peugeout Lounge: Funky looking bar/lounge which I never got to experience as the door man took a look at me and my stunner shoes and said “you need reservations” as he continued to let other people in without reservations. To which I said, “for a drink I need a reservation”? He said “yes”, with a smirk. He gave me his card which I may have ripped up and promptly threw in his face (I really need to watch my hot temper).
- When arriving to EZE airport in BA (or anywhere else in Argentina nower days), make sure to have your reciprocity card printed (it was finally checked in Chile upon my second entrance into Argentina).
- Bring $100 bills to last you the entire stay and have a local/hotel help you with finding a legit cambio shop to exchange your $$$.
- ATM cards/credit cards are useless now as you will get the “official rate” when using them rather than the “blue rate”.
- Check the @DolarBlue twitter feed for daily rate updates.
- Take a taxi/remise from the airport. It is the safest route, even if you don’t have your pesos yet. You can pay in dollars and negotiate the rate with them.
- Pay the hotel in cash if you can, unless you are paying in dollars from US.
- The streets are super safe and packed with people of all ages at all times of the day/night, but be smart. I have been walking alone at 3 in the morning in Palermo/Recoleta without issues (knocking on wood as I type this).
- Rent an apartment through airbnb. I ended up with a very cool host who is currently living in NY and he constantly messages me with tips and suggestions. He even ordered me a cab one day (it is safe when a local orders one for you) and had someone exchange money for me upon my arrival. And because I had no cash in pesos when I arrived to BA from Chile, he had his friend who owns a restaurant across the street make me a free breakfast!
- Disco grocery store is awesome – you can buy everything you need there!
- People are super friendly, for the most part…just try to speak Spanish!
- Check out the “Free Wifi Map” app for the iphone. Great way to get free wifi anywhere in the city! This comes in handy for google translate.
- Find a local who can give you a Sube card to borrow for cheap public transportation.
- If you are a girl, don’t get into cabs alone (too many stories of fake $ and kidnappings). You are better off walking! If my father is reading this – DON’T FREAK OUT! I don’t drink and walk!
Overall, I want to break up with Buenos Aires and his non-committal/irrational/abusive/stinky ways and the fantasies that he may have ruined; however, I have 6 more days to spend with him, so here is hoping!
Next up, the super luxe bus ride (no joke, it really was) to Mendoza, the wine country of Argentina!